Fossora by Björk | The Saturday newspaper
It’s far too easy to think of Björk as an artist from beyond our world. The Icelandic experimenter and occasional pop star has been known to the public for some 40 years, first as a child star, then as a member of the rock band The Sugarcubes, then as a musician, multimedia artist and actress under her own name. With each passing year, one gets the impression that the general population treats Björk less as a transgressor, formally ambitious, publicly committed but absolutely Human musician and more like someone to deal with, as if each new record was the transmission of extraterrestrial life that we had been waiting for our whole life.
There are undeniable advantages to this approach – in many ways the production of Björk’s last days has almost impossible to accept terms other than his own, although I reject the idea that all art should be assessed in a vacuum, as some critics are increasingly used to doing when it comes to of pop albums.
For the most part, though, I can’t help but feel like treating Björk as a rarefied, siled artist is doing her a disservice. Although much of Björk’s idolatry stems from the fandom, it can sometimes feel like she’s been relegated to a museum piece or, at worst, a freak-show attraction – someone to admire but not to truly engage.
At the same time, this overly cautious way of discussing Björk leads many to willfully ignore her obvious flaws, perhaps out of fear of appearing curious or old-fashioned. And therein lies the problem with criticizing Björk in any meaningful way: pointing out that her records are often uneven, or that her music tends to prioritize technical innovation over artistry, often leads to criticism of anti-intellectualism or a rejection on the grounds that Björk is “strange”. ” in the name of strangeness.
Fossor, Björk’s latest album under her own name, feels like a course correction and a cue: a challenge to anyone who inadvertently puts Björk down, whether from a place of love or disdain. At once thought-provoking and eerie, embodied and accessible, Björk’s 10th record captures the kind of fricative and brazenly pugnacious wit that characterized her superlative mid-2000s output. At the same time, it’s one of her the most clearly personal, perhaps even more so than 2015’s distraught breakup album. Vulnicurawhose lyrics touched on the details of her split from artist Matthew Barney.
Deeply concerned with ideas of motherhood and inheritance, themes inspired by both the coming of age of Björk’s daughter, Ísadóra, and the death of her mother, Hildur, Fossor feels like a testament to Björk’s skill as a world-builder and her unparalleled gift for bringing deeply cutting-edge ideas to the mainstream.
Fossor is built around techno and gabber beats and was produced in part with Indonesian experimental gabber duo Gabber Modus Operandi. It features an orchestra of six bass clarinets as well as the kind of strong flute arrangements that characterized the 2017s. Utopia; in its fusion of skew-whiff, bass-heavy electronics with lush orchestral parts, it immediately identifies itself as a kind of temperamental cousin of David Bowie Black Star and that of Scott Walker Bish Bosch and soakedavowedly “difficult” albums that took a sort of perverted and fun perspective on the trademarks of their famous creators. Fossor is a little less clean, a little less majestic, than either of these albums: from its first moments, it releases a rich and faecal pong, its atmosphere much more humid and marshy than any of the records Recent from Björk. His bushel of clarinets honks and skronks at odd times, like pistons firing in a steam engine, and on purpose. More than ever, Björk’s music works in time with her lyrics, serving as metaphor and illustration for her lyrics. Opening track “Atopos,” a clean tone, plays like a double-beat video of someone solving a Rubik’s Cube, clarinets and a dry, disarming techno beat pushing furiously to find time with each other. Moreover, Björk sings transparently about cancel culture, or, at least, about a kind of fractured stalemate:
Aren’t these just excuses not to connect?
Our differences are irrelevant
Insist on absolute justice at all times
It blocks the connection
As the song progresses, increasing in speed and intensity, its two disparate parts – the organic and the hard inorganic, the lung-thrusting and the deeply mechanical – begin to coalesce into a furious, restless beat. On a provided lyric sheet, the verse “We find our resonance / And we connect” suggests some kind of woven connection between the music and the lyrics.
These lyrics highlight an album that, at its most powerful moments, finds Björk trying to make peace: not only with the death of her mother and her new place as the leader of her matrilineal line, but with rude parts or not questioned about his psyche. On “Sorrowful Soil” and “Ancestress,” she draws the lines between the women who came decades and centuries before and the woman she must embody in the future.
The first, a song largely constructed from mournful overlapping choral parts, sketches a cosmic vision of motherhood that is both deeply symbolic and deeply palpable (“In a woman’s life she receives 400 eggs but only two or three nests… It’s emotional textile, self-sacrifice”) This last song pays a complex and heartbreaking tribute to Hildur in intimate and heartwarming terms: “The doctors she despised placed a pacemaker on her”. , she sings, countering the lines on “her ancestor’s clock” with disarming detail about her mother’s last days. which resemble the traditional folk song, encapsulate what makes Björk such a specific and famous lyricist, taking a moment and making it incredibly universal.
These sensitive and remarkably open songs bristle against Fossoris the most devious side. “Victimhood,” perhaps the best song here, has the eerie, ominous atmosphere of a fantasy score: clarinets stream from the edge of the frame like fog in a barren forest; a muffled, minimal metronome track—barely a beat so much as a disconcerting, all-pervading joint crackle—keeps the beat hard. In a discordant and incantatory tone, Björk sings of emotional pain: “Rejection left a void that is never filled / Sunk in victimhood / I felt the world owed me love. As with “Atopos,” “Victimhood” seems to sideways nod to culture war hotspots, while raising questions about the hurt and subjective artistic point of view that seemed to be in power. Vulnicura. The deep empathy of Fossor – and Björk’s entire catalog, really – suggests that this is not a surface discussion; instead, it feels like a deep consideration of the modes of artistic creation that Björk has engaged with over the years, and why she may have felt the need to move so quickly from a distinct style to another around the middle of the previous decade. Like many of Fossor, there’s a kind of shrewd meta-ness to “Victimhood”: if Björk herself invites questioning about her own work, it’s much harder for fans or critics to treat her as an out-of-this-world artist. time or voluntarily out of step with the culture. If the most recent sequel to Björk’s records is saying anything, it’s that while her more orchestral or conceptual music may seem belted out, it’s often anything but open to influence and revealing to those willing to dip into its seams.
Contrary to Vulnicura Where Utopiahowever, the landscape of Fossor contains more texture, more peaks and valleys. It’s not purely heartbroken, like Vulnicuraor purely joyful, as Utopia; instead, it lingers longer with uncategorizable loneliness and discomfort, ending on a melancholy, unvarnished note of finality. “Her Mother’s House” serves as a farewell to both Hildur and Ísadóra, the latter of whom co-wrote the song with Björk. It’s a quiet, achingly elegant choral and clarinet lament – a kind of eulogy to a very different memory or life. After a scrapbook of layered pasts and futures, this feels like a narrative written from the twinned perspectives of Björk and Hildur, as well as the other matriarchs of their line. “When a mother wishes she had a home with space for every child / She only describes the inside of her heart,” Björk sings, Ísadóra’s voice overlapping and harmonizing with hers. It’s a simple, humble, utterly stunning line – an expression of pure humanity, as far from alien as possible.
Fossor will be released on September 30.
EXPOSURE Neon Oracle: Hannah Brontë
UTS Gallery & Art Collection, Sydney, September 20 to November 11
FESTIVAL The Great Anxiety, Melbourne Naarm
RMIT City Campus, Melbourne, September 21 to October 15
THEATER Beyond the shallows
Peacock Theatre, Hobart, until September 24
VISUAL ART Kevin Robertson: Paintings 1984-2022
Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, Perth, until 10 December
EXPOSURE Cressida Campbell
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, from September 24 to February 19
Playhouse, Brisbane, until September 17
This article first appeared in the print edition of the Saturday Paper on September 17, 2022 under the headline “Loving the alien”.
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